South Africa

Op-Ed: Fragmenting and diffusing state capture probe a recipe for disaster

By John Steenhuisen 21 June 2017

The announcement this week by National Assembly House chairperson, Cedric Frolick, that four separate portfolio committees will be tasked with instituting “investigations” into state capture is both disturbing and bizarre. Frolick has seemingly tasked the Home Affairs, Public Enterprises, Mineral Resources and Transport portfolio committees of the National Assembly with engaging with the relevant ministers “to ensure Parliament gets to bottom of the allegations”. This announcement is nothing more than a cynical ploy by the ANC to undermine the opposition call for the creation of a single ad hoc committee to probe the scourge of state capture. By JOHN STEENHUISEN.

The formation of a single ad hoc committee is particularly urgent in light of the shocking revelations that are unfolding daily as a result of the #GuptaLeaks. The announcement of four separate committees being tasked with instituting “investigations” into state capture is also an act of remarkable bad faith on the part of the ANC. This is because this announcement was made while all parties, through the structures of Parliament, were still busy engaging in a discussion on the best way to proceed.

Fragmenting and diffusing the probe is a short-sighted and foolish approach and will never get to the heart of the problem. It is abundantly clear that the Gupta network extends far wider than the mere four portfolios that have been selected to conduct investigations. It was for that reason that the Democratic Alliance (DA) called for the creation of a special ad hoc committee to specialise in the probe of this scourge. It makes far more sense to have a centralised and coherent approach to this investigation by Parliament. First, an ad hoc committee would be able to transversely establish and view the full extent and nature of state capture in a more holistic way. This would make it far easier to join the dots and probe the similar modus operandi and trends that have been used to effect the capture. Second, it would centralise and streamline the calling of witnesses and the subpoena of persons and documents. The proposed fragmentation could also see witnesses being called before four different committees and being compelled to submit the very same documents to four different committees. Third, these four committees, working in isolation and with their own narrow focus, will be wholly unable to piece together the full parasitic tapestry of the Gupta subjugation of our executive and state.

House chair Frolick and others will argue that we have existing portfolio committees and that they must do the work. This is pure bunkum. There is no reason why the ad hoc committee, once having exposed the true extent of the problem, could through recommendation, task a variety of portfolio committees and agencies to further probe the specific narrow matters pertaining to the specific portfolio. They would be able to do so on the basis of concrete established information and documentation already obtained. This would make their work far more effective and make the process far more targeted and meaningful.

Frolick’s directive also exhorts the four portfolio committees to conduct “immediate engagement with the concerned ministers”. This is a farce, particularly when it is blatantly obvious that these very ministers are themselves at the heart of the capture. It is clear that many of these ministers have not been honest with the National Assembly in the past. As the truth starts to out, many are being exposed as having been less than honest in response to Opposition questions and in their declaration of interests. How Frolick and the ANC think these same ministers will suddenly, through some miraculous evolutionary process, develop the ethical rectitude to now come clean and account is frankly beyond belief. These ministers will simply obfuscate and deceive in their desperate attempts to wiggle off the hook. Because they will all be reporting before separate committees piecing together the tissue of lies will be far harder. Additionally it will make it almost impossible to detect discrepancies and omissions among their testimonies.

The announcement is also defective because, while referring to the ministers, it is eerily silent on the President. It is now common cause that President Jacob Zuma and his family are the very fountainhead of the scourge of state capture. It is their Faustian pact and grubby dealings with the Gupta family that has spawned this nefarious network. Surely the President should be the first person called to account for his abuse of the executive authority of the Republic to obtain personal gain for him and his family?

This announcement is designed to divert attention and distract from the real problem. Instead of honestly and forthrightly allowing the National Assembly to fulfil its constitutionally mandated oversight responsibility, the ANC are choosing a damage control strategy. The National Assembly has been in this movie several times before and it’s never ended well. It was found by the Constitutional Court no less, to have abrogated its responsibility in holding the executive accountable. Now is not the time for the National Assembly to blink, it must hold the line against both state capture and executive abuse of office. An ad hoc committee is the best way to proceed and rip out this poisoned tree that has rooted itself in our state and political landscape. The approach set out by the ANC in this problematic announcement will never match the task. It will only serve to shield those responsible and allow the scourge to continue with impunity. Worse still, it leaves the National Assembly once again exposed to charges of dereliction of its duty to the Constitution and our people. DM

John Steenhuisen MP is a DA member of the National Assembly and the Chief Whip of the Opposition.

Photo: President Jacob Zuma is seen with Gauteng Premier Nomvula Mokonyane at the SA Local Government Association (Salga) national conference in Midrand, Monday, 10 September 2012. Picture: GCIS/SAPA

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